Turning Smog Into Gemstones And Pollution Awareness

Wait what? The Smog Free Project by [Daan Roosegaarde] is another one of those head scratchers where somehow art, engineering, and a designer collide — to produce what looks like an actual working concept…?

The oddly shaped white tower is essentially a massive air purifier. It’s in Rotterdam this week after over 3 years of research and development. It actually scrubs the air, removes contaminates, and then compresses those particles down into small cubes, or “gem stones”. Going full tilt, it will clean approximately 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour.

To help spread awareness, they then take the waste cubes and integrate them into jewelry. Essentially they’re physical carbon credits!


The project was originally intended for Beijing for obvious reasons, but since then has grown to become what [Dan] hopes to be a movement. So instead this odd white tower will be traveling around the globe to help spread awareness of pollution — they’re using a Kickstarter to try to generate some funding to help with transportation costs. It will make it to Beijing by the way, which is where Studio Roosegaarde is located.

This is the same guy who made the glow in the dark sidewalk in the Netherlands, reminiscent of [Vincent Van Gogh’s] Starry Night — which we have to admit, was actually pretty cool — replacing light posts with a ground that glows.

What do you think of the idea? We can’t imagine it’s very efficient, but who knows…

59 thoughts on “Turning Smog Into Gemstones And Pollution Awareness

  1. It’s kind of the big circle of life. Government sells permits to corporations to spill pollution into the air. Instead of filtering it at the source, we come up with a way to filter it elsewhere, and then re-sell that pollution back to the people as a “gift”, “gift” ends up in the land fill. Government re-samples air and finds out they can sell more pollution credits to spill more into the air, because it’s cleaner now. Seems a bit inefficient to me.

      1. Actually very realistic…
        Worked at a company, for which it was (significantly) cheaper to pay fines for VOC pollution rather then have the purpose build burner combust the VOC loaded air, reducing the content to 1-2%…
        The rhetorical cherry on top was that running the burner meant having to pay for the released CO2 (making it even more expensive to run), so instead of releasing harmless CO2, the plant releases a couple of tons of VOCs (which can, among other crap, cause cancer) every month, just because the state is forcing them to…

  2. “What do you think of the idea?”

    uhhh. Well, for starters, if they actually cared, and if it’s such a great idea, why is the kickstarter for an exhibition and travel of a single machine? Why is it not to open-source-hardware the damn thing or to make a “backyard” version that people can experiment with and use as a conversation piece all over the world? Why does it have to be a single piece? Oh, because it’s about the artist’s ego, and not actually caring about the environment or anything.

      1. Sorry just found out that it is wind powered, well then the manufacturing process involved in its parts “may” have produced more pollution than it will capture over its lifetime. But I’m just guessing here.

  3. This deserves to be raked over the coals (pun intended) as badly as perpetual motion schemes. The Kickstarter says the Smog Free Tower is powered by wind energy. OK, but using that wind energy to reduce fossil fuel use would remove more smog from the air than the Smog Free Tower does.

    If it’s just an art project, then perhaps the fact that it sabotages its own goal is excusable. But the idea that this could make a clean-air oasis outdoors is preposterous. The slightest breeze would overwhelm it.

    1. That’s not necessarily the case, because you’re assuming that any efficient smog-reduction method is already being applied at the source using the energy it produces. Power plants have no incentive to reduce their particulate outputs below what’s required by law, though, so it’s entirely possible that a device like this could result in a net decrease in smog even if powered by the power plant it’s ‘purifying’.

    2. That would depend on if the smog being produced is from power generation that the wind turbine is able to displace.
      That could vary a lot based on location.

      This could also, in some cases, make more sense from a energy load balance perspective. If a country is lucky enough to get over a threshold amount from renewable during the day already, adding more wont help as whats needed is storage for use into the night.(remember power plants cant be switched on/off easily)
      So if you have energy beyond what you have a capacity to store, it can instead go to this and do something usefull.

      1. True electric vehicle transfer the point of pollution with their use. Also true is that the use of electric vehicles could reduce pollution where pollution from motor vehicles is a problem. So I’m not sure why the person who thinks their driving an electrical vehicle helps solve a problem where they drive their vehicle is a hypocrite. Particularly when the emissions of a power plant may emit less pollution per total of miles driven if petroleum powered those electric cars.

        1. If you live in an area with hydro power, you are carbon free when driving an electric car. There might be other environmental problems with that. But you would be transportation carbon free. Same with nuclear,

      2. i think its better to have those engines (replaced by gas turbines) sitting in a power plant with more robust exaust conditioning than can be crammed into a vehicle, and systems to recover and utilize waste heat which cars will never have. then you make the cars lighter by taking the big engine blocks out of them, then reduce their structural weight.

        this of course requires better battery technology that doesn’t exist yet. before you start seeing any overall improvement in efficiency. you have to make up for transmission losses and recharging losses. of course the point is moot when your power grid moves to renewable, nuclear, eventually fusion in 50 years (if ever).

      3. Ah jeez, how is this conversation still going on?

        Electric cars are immensely more energy-efficient than those that use ICE’s. And those large-scale coal plants have a much higher conversion efficiency than any ICE on the road, so even the coal-electricity-charger-battery transmission chain beats filling up your tank with gas.

        And that’s ignoring the possibility of using renewables. It’s not green propaganda or a pie-in-the-sky dream. Like, seriously, most cars just sit still all day. Pretty much any roof covered in second-rate panels (~100w/m^2) produces more than enough energy over the course of a typical day to drive to the grocery store with your Tesla on “ludicrous mode.”

        Don’t like solar? Then plug into a nuclear plant. This is probably the most safe and feasibly green power source we have. Every plant that’s ever failed has been run by computers less powerful than your calculator watch, and badly designed in the 60’s. Think nuclear waste is a problem? How about we shoot it into the sun? It won’t mind. And do you realize how little uranium it would take to get a few tons of nuclear waste to escape velocity?

        Also, the whole “manufacturing a car battery causes more emissions than a hummer in it’s lifetime” thing is an outright myth, even if they couldn’t be easily recycled. It sounds like it could be true, so people repeat it because it makes them sound smart. ‘Cause who doesn’t love a contrarian?

        The horse is dead, stop beating it.

      4. Electric cars are massively more efficient regardless of where the power comes from.
        And thats not even getting started to the fact that even normal cars have a electrical cost too because fuel takes electricity to be refined for their use.

        The fact that a electric car isnt 100% pollution free does not make it equal in pollution, or even close. (not Co2 wise anyway)

  4. This tech uses something like (but not ozone powered) those ionic breeze things that were all the rage 10 years ago. you’re only getting particulate out of the air. Smog is so much more than PM2.5.

    Purifying tower 30 km^3 / h * 24 = 720 km^3 / d
    1.293 kg/ m^3
    930,960 kg / d
    Most common US Coal plant output 250-500 MW
    average efficiency 34%; ~1904 kWh / short ton
    Optimum air-fuel ratio 14 kg air / kg coal

    So a 250 MW plant will use 119 tonnes of coal and consume around 1,666 tonnes of clean air. Liberating 341 tonnes of CO2 on top of that, plus variable amounts of SOx which gets scrubbed out according to local law.
    It will take a tower scaled up (assuming the tech does scale) 1.7x and running for a whole day to clean up a medium sized coal plant running at full tilt for an hour. Or 43x to keep up with output on an on-going basis.
    That’s also ignoring gasses that don’t get scrubbed out, and those produced by side reactions in the boiler. And obviously neglecting vehicle traffic which is much more poorly documented.

    At best this is a media stunt.

      1. Herp-derp. Thanks for the correction. I -think- the rest of the numbers are accurate though since I converted over to kg early on , just my units are misleading in the beginning.
        Not that this back of the envelope calculation is a very good basis to go on.

  5. The kickstarter is to produce the tower, and to take it on a world tour.

    It isn’t a practical device. It isn’t an efficient device. Heck, it isn’t even really a device meant to be open sourced.

    This is an art piece to raise awareness about “smog.” The same smog that is particulates in the air, and not actual carbon sequestration. He’s taking a charged field, separating out the particulates, and collecting them to be dumped into a plastic cube… Yeah, that’s as stupid to type as it was to read.

    This guy seems to fail to realize that pollen is “smog” by his definition. So is dirt, dust, and anything small enough to be suspended in the air. This is by no means about carbon sequestration. Heck, even if we found some magical way to sequester 99% of the CO2 and SOx in the atmosphere there’s still be tons of “smog.” Basically, 10 points for enthusiasm and -10 points for understanding basic physics.

    Please don’t give people like this money. They fail to understand exactly how idiotic their ideas are, and somehow conflate a passion for something with having a righteous cause. Think solar roadways, only on a much smaller scale.

  6. A lot of negative comments. Ithink a device that makes little smog cubes is pretty cool. Sure it won’t save the world, but it’s cool anyway. There are lots of cool things that won’t save the world.

    1. I agree. It might not reduce the pollution effectively but it’s a start. I can see there was an agenda to promote someone’s artwork and another guys engineering. Whatever. The dudes gotta put food in his family’s mouths. But they did produce something that isn’t an eyesore and does more than just stand there taking up space. Its a simple concept to raise awareness of pollution by using something the simple minded people can appreciate.

      Tl;dr: crawl before you run. Some people need to see the pollution trapped in a cube to start seeing the necessity of reducing carbon emissions.

  7. On for Pete’s sake y’all, we might be a bunch of science-y literal types, but surely even we can appreciate art sometimes.

    This is art. It is making a statement. It is not pretending to be a cold-fusion device or a hydrogen generator. It. Is. Art. Deal with it. And if you can’t deal with it, then sod off…

    1. Hmm, if it is art and you do appreciate it then sod off to deviant art and take it with you. Leave Hackaday for things that it should cover. The artistic limit on here should be “aesthetically pleasing”.

      1. because no one ever hacked something during an art project and there isnt literally hundreds of articles of that type on this site, a site that already has it’s own curation, so complain all you want but your opinion on this matter means as little as mine, the OP or any other reader.

      2. I guess I’m just piling on: Art is a big part of what we cover around here. Hacking is hardware art, and so serious art pieces definitely have a place. Think of this like the fashion industry; what you see on the most important runways is extremely unlikely to be seen walking down the street in your neighborhood. But it shows the forward thinking, and those ideas are incorporated into the actual fashion seen in the wild.

        So no, you won’t likely see these units in your town square, or the rings on the person across from you in the subway. But somebody reading about this might go on to lead an engineering team that makes major breakthroughs in environmental cleanup based on a kernel of inspiration from a project like this one.

        This belongs here.

  8. Omg again people confusing smog and CO2. Smog is mostly particulate mattter, and is something very local. CO2 is a global problem. Some CO2 improvements are worsening smog (e.g. diesel engines vs petrol engines). Smog kills people by tumors in decades, CO2 by starving, in centuries.

    1. Starving? CO2 is essential to the growth of plants. Plants = food (whether for us directly or for our feed animals). If you’re worried about CO2, plant a tree. If you’re hungry and worried about CO2, plant an apple tree.

      It’s funny how everyone talks about CO2 being such an issue when the gas that is responsible for 95% of the “greenhouse effect” is never mentioned… (it’s water, by the way)

      1. …because we’re not pumping more and more water vapour into the atmosphere.

        That’s akin to saying “why is everyone worried about drowning when the liquid responsible for 80% of your mass (water) is never mentioned?

        1. “…because we’re not pumping more and more water vapour into the atmosphere.”

          Actually we are, burning hydrocarbons produces water vapor too you know. Burning coal doesn’t, but the particulates produced by ‘dirty’ coal plants help reflect sunlight and some suggest give coal power a net cooling effect (at the cost of air quality).

          Of course water vapor comes down as rain, but CO2 is absorbed by plants (which grow and then absorb MORE CO2). The earth’s feedback systems are incredibly complex.

          1. Fine, let me rephrase: We haven’t (and, really, can’t) increased the proportion of water vapour in the air due to human activity. We have, however, increased the proportion of CO2 quite substantially.

            The steady state doesn’t matter; what matters is how the changes affect things.

          2. Have we? Maybe. Or maybe the natural cycle that occurs in between each ice age (which we are in now) melts polar ice, raises sea levels, and increases the average temperature of the earth.
            Are humans speeding up this natural process? Yes, but it would happen anyway, although at a slower rate. There is nothing humans can do to stop it.

          3. “The earth’s feedback systems are incredibly complex.”

            And yet large numbers of people that haven’t spent their lives studying it feel the need to act like the vaste majority of those that do are wrong.

            Its “so complex” that only non-climate scientists can be correct.

      2. You’re out of your element Donnie.

        Water isn’t counted because it transports energy, clouds increase albedo and humidity varies hourly and the water cycle consumes energy in one spot and releases it in another.

        “CO2 is just plant food” is an incredibly ignorant statement. We’re burning forests, destroying wetlands (which results in loss of peat and humus as they decompose releasing more CO2), washing soil into the rivers through bad farming practices, and all the while acidfying the ocean as we continue to pump CO2 into the atmosphere. Overfishing, ocean acidification, and eutrophication due to fertilizer run off is destroying the ocean, which is the largest producer of oxygen and consumer of CO2. The primary producers that preform this action CANNOT survive or be sequestered in an acidified ocean.
        So even if CO2 were ‘just plant food’ we’re killing the plants that eat it.

        @Generic Human
        Coal does produce water vapor in flue gas. To the tune of 0.76 kg vapor / kg of coal. We release thousands of years worth of forest swamp CO2 for every kWh we use. You can’t possibly expect current plants to keep up with that.

        Yes we’ve been coming out of an Ice Age for the last ~12 ka but the rate of increase has drastically (possibly catastrophically,certainly dangerously) increased in the past century. Your appeal to nature isn’t a good reason to keep doing what can empirically be shown to be a bad practice. We may not be able to completely stop it (depends on who you ask, and what our energy policy is for the next decade), but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to slow it, or work on technology to ameliorate the damages.

  9. Even if it doesn´t remove gases and the like, removing that much solids from the air is already a good thing. Not perfect, sure, but if it cleans some of those diesel engines used in buses, trucks, etc, it is good. Of course, the price of the tower can´t be calculated by it´s “art” value.

  10. Another major criticism I have is this:
    “Wait what? The Smog Free Project by [Daan Roosegaarde] is another one of those head scratchers where somehow art, engineering, and a designer collide — to produce what looks like an actual working concept…?”
    This can be taken 2 ways. One way, Betteridge’s law of headlines, no. These people are too shallow to have achieved such a thing. The other, the author is just as deserving of the following criticism as the people doing the project.

    I feel like this goes counter to the hacker culture that is (used to be?) the core of this site. The whole point of hacker/maker culture (at least as I have always seen it, maybe I’m a minority now), is flipping society’s script: instead of saying that a person who does everything is a renaissance person, a person who does only one thing is an ignorant fool. “art, engineering, and a designer collide”. WTF. Why are they not one person? How stupid.

  11. Has anyone ever owned an Ionic Breeze? If I turned it up too high in a small room, I started smelling an “electric” smell… No not like it was overheating… I read a few articles bashing the Ionic Breeze about actually doing more harm than good, or no good at all… FOOD FOR THOUGHT

    Article: http://articles.latimes.com/2008/apr/21/health/he-skeptic21

    Here is an excerpt:

    “the machines release a steady stream of negatively charged ions that electrify the bits of dust, dander or other flotsam. The airborne particles pick up the negative charge and become strongly attracted to positively charged collection plates inside the machine. (In many cases, they also become attracted to other charged surfaces such as walls, table tops and TV screens.)”

  12. Unlike many of the comments above, i understand that this is art and so I won’t even go there. I’d like to point out the bigger issue here. This is “Hackaday.com”. So where are the technical specs? How is it powered? How is is scrubbing the air? The article reads like an advertisement. I know someone will say “follow the links” or “google it”. But if this article contains ZERO technical information then how does it have a place on this site? I know you guys are trying to diversify your content but you need to have at least a few more criteria for an article other than asking “Does it run on electricity? YUP!”

    1. I agree, but it does say it is using ionization to trap the particles.

      More info and pictures of the inside WOULD be appropriate here.

      My first reaction to this was ‘woah cool’ though, so I might be a minority among the pedantic crowd.

  13. Hrrrm…If they can implement water reclamation along with the air purification, AND make it work within a greenhouse setting for plants and such, this “could be” viable. It’s like a big massive plant…carbon dioxide by day, oxygen and nitrates by night. :) At least it is “something.)

  14. I wonder what percentage of the material collected in the cubes is living organisms like spores and pollen? I also wonder how many bugs get zapped by the electrostatic scrubber. Maybe they filter out the bugs before filling the cubes.

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